What's the best way to organize a mountain of computer-related power adapters?
January 8, 2007 7:40 AM   Subscribe

What's the best way to organize a mountain of computer-related power adapters that is a) safe, and b) neat?

Like most nerds I have a *ton* of power adapters plugged in at my desk - computer, two screens, multifunction printer, speakers, DSL modem, router, VOIP adapter, etc., etc. It's a gigantic mess of cables and power bricks.

I really want to sit down and reorganize everything to make it easier to access, neater, and at the same time electrically safe. I currently have an APC BX1000 that I've been using for a couple of years and have only around 15% power capacity plugged into it.

What do you do to organize your power?
posted by theNonsuch to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Zip ties!
posted by trevyn at 7:44 AM on January 8, 2007

I use zip ties as well, but if I had the cash I'd use cable capture or, even better, cable turtles.

I'm actually planning on making my own in this vein with a bolts and "pinch bowls" which are silicon bowls and should work nicely.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 7:53 AM on January 8, 2007

I am reading the question as "how do I organize the adapters," not "how do I organize the cables?" Maybe I am misreading it, but if I'm not, these might help. If it's the cables, there is this.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:58 AM on January 8, 2007

Response by poster: The question covers both. Basically, what's the most efficient way to plug the adapters in? And then, what's the best way to organize the cables?
posted by theNonsuch at 9:03 AM on January 8, 2007

I saw something recently about hooking a wire basket to the underside of the table, and coiling all the cable evil-ness into it. Seemed like a good solution for all the permanent cables to me.

1 cable going into a basket, 4 going out, basket completely hidden.

No idea where I saw it, though.
posted by Leon at 9:27 AM on January 8, 2007

It's questions like this that cause me to wish there was an industry standard "warthog" - a magic box that generates appropriate voltages and currents for the devices plugged into it.

This is my theory, it is mine, and here it is:

Devices have a standard "power in" connector, something akin to USB. A cable of (just about) any length is used to connect this to a magic power box with one or more "power out" connectors. This box may also have some UPS built-in.

When a circuit (device < -> power box) is completed, a standard low-power circut is enabled and the devices negotiate the voltage/current requirements for the full device. The power box then provides the full electricity for the device.

Benefits: Standard power connectors, standard power cables, standard power supplies, allows for simplification and competition between providers ("our power supply has a built-in UPS that can be monitored using a web server!"), device suppliers can choose to no longer include a specific power supply with every device, therefore lowering costs.

Problems: Large infrastructure roll-out (though pretty simple stuff for the technology industry), updated versions of any standard may result in "back compatibility" issues, connecting devices will need to accept power at some level supplied by the box, requires a more complex power adapter.
posted by lowlife at 9:36 AM on January 8, 2007

When the power brick's not explicitly labeled for the item it powers, I stick a label on it. I keep the tie wires that are used to bundle cables (of any kind) and loosely wrap it around one end after it's attached to the wire. When the cable is no longer used, I can quickly re-coil it and put it away.

The problem in my experience -- and I've been running ugly rats nests for a long time -- has never been that the wiring looks chaotic. It's entirely whether I can see one end of any arbitrary wire and know where the other end is. As long as everything in between is out of kicking range, it's going to be safe.

(And I am assuming that you keep your cables in good condition, replace them if they're not, don't drape them over/under things that can abrade or cut the housing, replace them or what they plug into when they can't be socketed securely, keep them above potential water levels, and so on.)
posted by ardgedee at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2007

I've played around with a lot of cable-organization schemes and devices, and I've never been totally happy with any of them. Standard nylon zip ties are OK, but if you have to move anything around then you have to cut them off and put new ones on. For stuff that's really permanent (like rackmounted gear in road cases), they're the way to go, though.

I've tried Cable Turtles, but I'm not a huge fan because they're pretty big and get tangled when you try to pull one cable out of a bunch, even more easily than cables bundled with zip ties are. I use them for headphones and stuff in my laptop bag, but that's about it.

The best product I've found are velcro ties, like these. They're not cheap, and sometimes on big cables you need two or more to keep things bundled up nicely. You can even color code, if you buy enough. On bigger cables that are going to be used and then recoiled and put away for storage (like extension cords, long Ethernet cables, etc.) "Cable Wrap" velcro ties are great.

One thing I've always wanted to do, but never had the time for, was labeling various cables and adapters using a label printer and clear heat-shrink tubing, like is done on professional audio installations. Not having the time or inclination to go that far, I just use masking tape (leaves horrible gunk) and a Sharpie. I mark various wall warts, so that if I'm down behind the desk I can at least not unplug the wrong thing by accident.

One thing I would stay away from, though, is split-loom tubing. Sure, it looks really great, but if you ever need to get one cable out of a bunch that are all in the tubing, it can be a big pain. To keep cables bundled together (like, all the cables going to the computer's CPU) I'd use a flexible bendy-ish thing like this. It's made of the same stuff as those bendable kids toys.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 AM on January 8, 2007

Tomato tape. Available in most hardware stores, I expect.
posted by Chuckles at 12:53 PM on January 8, 2007

Squid + RipTie = happy wallwarts.
posted by majick at 12:59 PM on January 8, 2007

Ok, I actually use quick-release zip ties, but they're a bit hard to find. (You'll note the useful sizes come in qty 1000.)

The Velcro plant wraps also work well, but are a little more fiddly.
posted by trevyn at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2007

And yeah, the Tripp-Lite style power strips rock.

Basically, look at what your local datacenter uses. ;)
posted by trevyn at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2007

for cleaning up around the power strip, some people find these the antithesis of what you are trying to do, but I think they work pretty good:

posted by tdischino at 3:36 PM on January 8, 2007

I use a chain of six-way power boards where the sockets are spaced wide enough to allow my wall warts to be plugged in without touching, and I wrap up excess figure-8 cable using the twist ties that come supplied with every piece of equipment that has cables (I save these like a little pack rat).

Truly massive wall-warts that don't even fit in a wide-spaced board can usually be accommodated if a standard plug can be put in the sockets either side of them.

Most of keeping it neat is art, though. Every time you add a piece of equipment, figure out what the cables to all the rest of the equipment would look like if you just unplugged them all and took the equipment away. In fact, you can just unplug whatever it is and have a look. Then reroute cables and reassign wall-warts to sockets such that the number of crossings is as small as you can make it. Then loop and tie excessively long cables.

Don't succumb to the temptation to join cables to each other in some kind of loom, unless you're sure you're never going to add or remove another piece of equipment again. Looms are stiff and nasty things.

Throwing all your power boards, plugs and cables into a wire basket or wiring tray or any other out-of-sight thing is a recipe for an unmaintainable rat's nest in the long term, IMO. Just take the extra five minutes to figure out what to do with the cables when you plug in something new.
posted by flabdablet at 6:34 PM on January 8, 2007

I am quite pleased with my setup:
A shoebox with everything inside, including a big USB hub and all devices connected to it. I mean all: usb soundcard, usb keyboard, usb mouse ...
Out of it comes only one tube that contains cables for screen, keyboard and mouse inside, and one electricity plug.
posted by mitocan at 6:21 AM on January 9, 2007

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